Navigating College Student Aid: the (new) Better FAFSA
Thanks to a new Indiana law, starting this year, Hoosier high school seniors will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). A goal of the law, which was signed last April, is to ensure that students better understand and can access all the funding available to those who are headed to college. The share of Hoosier students heading to college has declined to 53%, and our workforce needs educated graduates. Accessing financial support for postsecondary education can help both our students and the state’s future economy.
College is costly, and families and students can use every benefit to help make higher education more accessible. For millions of American students and their families, FAFSA is a crucial financial aid tool. By serving as the gateway to a range of federal and state grants, loans, and work-study programs, it makes higher education more accessible. This year marks the introduction of a new and improved application process that is being called “Better FAFSA.”
Indiana Youth Institute (IYI) is partnering with the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE) to provide local FAFSA trainings across the state that will walk through the new updates and guidelines. Everyone working with high school students is invited to attend and learn about the evolving higher education landscape in Indiana, empowering student success, and fostering collaboration among stakeholders for a brighter educational future.
The FAFSA is a critical part of many high school seniors’ higher education journey; however, it presents challenges due to its complexity, deadlines, annual renewal, dependency status, verification process, requests for sensitive information, and limited aid for some individuals. Indiana’s new FAFSA completion law adds us to a list of at least eight other states that have taken such a step to help keep students on the path to higher education and increase college affordability. Indiana families last year reportedly left nearly $70 million in Pell Grants unclaimed. ICHE maintains a state dashboard of FAFSA completion showing that county application completion rates vary from a low of 20.5% to over 60%, with the current state average at 47.77%.
Upcoming FAFSA trainings include:
Local Youth Worker Café (in-person):
Completing the FAFSA has never been easy, and we hope that the recent changes will reduce some of the complexity. At the same time the benefits of completing the FAFSA are clear, and include:
1. Access to Financial Aid
The primary benefit of the FAFSA application is its role in granting access to various forms of financial aid. By completing the FAFSA, students become eligible for federal grants like the Pell Grant, which does not require repayment. Additionally, FAFSA is a crucial step in applying for federal student loans, which typically have lower interest rates compared to private loans.
2. State-Based Aid
In addition to federal aid, many states use FAFSA data to determine eligibility for state-based financial aid programs. This includes scholarships, grants, and tuition assistance programs that can significantly reduce the cost of higher education. FAFSA serves as a common application for both federal and state aid, simplifying the process for students and their families. It’s important to note that the funds aren’t just for two- and four-year institutions. Filling out the FAFSA can also provide funds for students who want to use a Next Level Jobs Workforce Ready Grant for short- or long-term credentials.
3. Institutional Scholarships
Many colleges and universities also use FAFSA information to award their own need-based scholarships and grants. FAFSA helps institutions identify students with financial need and allocate resources accordingly. This can make higher education more affordable for students attending specific institutions.
4. Work-Study Opportunities
FAFSA eligibility also extends to the Federal Work-Study program, which provides students with part-time employment opportunities to help cover their educational expenses. These jobs are often related to the student’s field of study and can offer valuable work experience.
5. Enhanced Financial Planning
Completing the FAFSA can provide families with a clearer picture of their expected family contribution (EFC) and the overall cost of education. This information allows students and their families to make informed decisions about financing their education, including whether to pursue federal loans, seek scholarships, or consider alternative educational paths.
Navigating FAFSA challenges requires careful planning and attention to detail, but the potential benefits make it a crucial step in the pursuit of higher education for many of our students and their families. Efforts to simplify the FAFSA process and improve its accessibility can help ensure that deserving students receive the financial support they need to achieve their educational goals. IYI’s upcoming trainings with ICHE will address these challenges, equipping educators, youth workers, and families with the information to help students build an affordable path to postsecondary success.